CHESTER Zoo will launch a new exhibition this weekend to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the popular tourist attraction and its founder George Mottershead.
Realising his dream of a zoo without bars, George laid the foundations for what is now the most popular and successful charity zoo in the UK.
With his drive and ambition and in the face of stiff local opposition, George opened the zoo in 1931.
In 1934, the North of England Zoological Society was formed to run the zoo under a governance of a council of elected members.
The achievements of the zoo over the past seven decades will also be recognised with the launch of a new exhibition, on Saturday chronicling the history from those first few days through to present time.
The exhibition, which will be in the open air close to the aquarium, will be unveiled by George’s daughter June and her husband Fred. The couple, who both devoted a lifetime to the zoo, still live nearby.
June said: “We’reŠhappy to see that the zoo is still a pioneer and making great strides forward in supportingŠwildlife conservation and isŠincreasing awarenessŠof the plight of fragile habitats around the world that are under threat.
Stephen McKeown, Chester Zoo’s Head of Education, said: “George Mottershead was a visionary. He saw what good zoos could achieve, the difference they could make in the role of conservation and the importance of animal welfare. This was something he never lost sight of and what we continue to aspire to today.
“George faced many difficulties during those early years, particularly during World War II but now, 75 years on, we are still here, stronger than ever.”
The zoo covers 110 acres, welcomes more than 1.3 million visitors a year, supports conservation projects on each corner of the globe and has been named by Forbes as one of the best 15 zoos in the world.
“None of what we have achieved in recent years would have been possible without George’s initial tenaciousness – the zoo has seen some tough times but George’s solid determination and steely resolve ultimately laid the foundations for success.
“He had a plan for a zoo without bars and so began a new design concept for zoos which is today mirrored all over the world.
Stephen added: “We are delighted that June will join us on this historic day for the launch of the exhibition and would like to thank her for sharing with us her valuable family footage and pictures and for her help in putting this exhibition together.”
The zoo continues to expand and has recently announced plans for further development with the launch of the Natural Vision project.
The ambitious £225 million plan will see it transformed into the largest conservation, animal and leisure attraction of its kind in Europe and will involve a £90 million first phase.
This will include the only domed ecosystem in the UK called Heart of Africa which will be an African rainforest-themed sanctuary for a band of gorillas, a large troop of chimpanzees, okapi and a wide variety of tropical birds, amphibians, reptiles, fishes and invertebrates all moving freely among lush vegetation.
The first phase – planning permission for which will be sought later this year – will also include a 90-bed hotel, a conservation college, a key element of which is the ‘Futures’ education centre, and a revamped main entrance linking to a marina development on zoo land beside the Shropshire Union Canal.
June said: “I have been grateful for the zoo’s recent interest inŠhow the zooŠwas establishedŠand the people were involved in doing this. My family and others did work hard to makeŠour dreams become a reality.
“There are not many ofŠus left to tell the tale of how the zoo was founded. Fred and I haveŠbeen glad that we've been able to share some of the stories of these times so that they will not be forgotten.
“We’reŠhappy to see the zoo is still a pioneer and making great strides forward in supportingŠwildlife conservation and increasing awarenessŠof the plight of fragile habitats that are under threat around the world.”